Going back to basics

By Rebecca Franks. Posted

A circuit diagram for an LED (left) and the same circuit created on a breadboard (right)

Rebecca Franks looks at how to get beginners started on a physical computing project

My journey into physical computing has taken me in all sorts of directions, but it really started to click with me when I went back to basics. I have decided to try this approach with a group of beginner digital makers, who are learning to power LEDs and set up simple circuits to make an art project, to see if it helps them become more independent with their own projects. Over the next few issues I will share my session ideas and progress with you in the hope that it will encourage you to have a go yourself!

It all starts with a breadboard

Many physical computing projects begin with a breadboard. A breadboard is typically made up of terminal strips to hold the main components, such as LEDs, and bus strips to power the components. A breadboard allows creators to prototype their ideas before making them more permanent by soldering — sticking wires and components together using melted metal. 

Each row of terminal strips, marked using numbers, is electrically connected. There is a channel in the centre of a breadboard which provides an airflow gap for components that need them. Electricity doesn’t flow through the channel; this is a common misconception that beginner learners have, and I often forget, too!

Breadboards are great once you understand how they actually work, but this is often the first barrier that newbie makers face. A basic circuit diagram can look very different when it is created on a breadboard (see images above).

Session one

My goal for the first session with my beginner maker group is to develop their understanding of how the breadboard works. They will start with a circuit using a battery, a resistor, an LED, and male-to-male jumper wires; see the images for examples. They will then add further LEDs to develop their series circuit. This will show how the brightness of the light is reduced with each new LED. 

Next I will introduce a parallel circuit so that the group can see how the current flows through branches. This will also help to build their knowledge of the breadboard, as they will need to think carefully about where to position the components. 

My plan is to use circuit diagrams along with breadboard images to support the group. I think that learning circuit diagrams is important, because you might want to learn something new later on, or add something extra to your circuit. Electronics tutorials often include circuit diagrams, which can be quite off-putting to beginners if they have never seen one before. 

I often find myself asking ‘why’ or ‘how’ when digital making, and it is not always easy to find the correct answer. By starting at the very beginning with my group, I hope that they will learn this as they go along. This should help with their confidence and make them more independent when they create their final projects.  

Join me in the next issue of Hello World, where I will give feedback on how the session went and reveal my plans for session two.

Session one kit list

  • 10 x yellow LEDs

  • 3 x multicoloured LEDs

  • 2 x 1K resistors

  • 3 x crocodile clips

  • 1 x small breadboard

  • 2 x on/off switches

  • 10 x male-to-male jumper wires

  • 1 x 9V battery connector

  • 1 x 9V battery



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